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Making sausages

Few of us make our own sausages. This is shame, it is easier than you may think and home made sausages taste great. Making them yourself also gives control over the ingredients and the chance to customise them to your own tastes.

Many prospective sausage makers are put off by the mysteries of skins and sausage stuffing. The good news is that you can make excellent home made sausages without going anywhere near a sausage skin. You can use your home made sausage meat as burgers, good sausage meat or use the home cook's secret weapon - caul fat - to make sausage parcels.

Caul fat

Caul fat is a web like membrane which wraps internal organs. It is traditionally used to wrap faggots and prepared cuts of meat. You can use it to wrap parcels of sausage meat (they are called crepinettes in France) and either grill or fry them. The caul fat will not only act as a sausage skin but will also baste the meat as it cooks. It dissolves away after slow cooking but is attractive enough in its own right.

It is unlikely to be on display but if you ask, pork caul fat (which is the best) should be available from most good butchers.

Equipment

If you want to stuff your own sausages you will need some more equipment. You can try the low tech version and use a large piping bag or a funnel and stick. You need a sausage stuffing machine if you are serious about home made sausages. Kenwood Chef owners can buy the mincer (including sausage making attachment) for around £35. A hand cranked machine will cost around £40. Sausagemaking.co.uk sells all you need to make home made sausages, including mincers, skins and a stuffing machine.

Sausage meat

Before you can make your sausages you need sausage meat. You could use ready made but to me, this defeats the 'home made' object. The best option is to purchase your chosen meat and either ask your butcher to mince it for you or mince it yourself.

Most sausages are made from a mix of lean meat such as shoulder and fatty cuts such as belly. The fat is vital because it carries taste and provides succulence. The ideal proportions of lean and fat meat will vary from person to person but any good sausages will be made with a good proportion of fatty meat. The best meat is from one of the rare breeds. If you cannot get hold of these ask your butcher for meat from 'overweight' pigs which have a good fat covering.

A good mixture to start with is 50% lean and 50% fatty. Pork is the most popular meat you can try veal and poultry but in both cases will probably also need to use some pork.

The next stage is mincing the meat. Best results are obtained from cold meat, mincing, especially with a food processor heats the meat. Using cold meat counteracts this and also produces better mince (this is one of the reasons why ice cubes are added to many commercial mixes).

Cut the meat into pieces to fit your mincer or processor. A very fine mince will make a smooth pate like sausage. (In commercial sausage making a very fine mince is used to disguise fatty, low quality meat). I prefer a rougher, courser cut mince with chunks of meat. If you are using a food processor be careful that the mixture is not over processed - use the pulse button until you are happy with the texture.

Cereal

The next decision is whether you will make 100% meat sausages (i.e. 'gluten free') or add filler to the mix. Most filler is either breadcrumbs or rusk. It is cheap and the scourge of many a cheap sausage. They add bulk at low cost and also absorb the cheapest ingredient of all - water. However added in small quantities they do have a place in a good sausage. They add texture and help to retain fat (and therefore flavour) in the sausage. I therefore add some cereal to the mix - between 5% and 10% of the weight of the meat. You can use a wide variety of fillers, the most common for home made sausages is white breadcrumbs but you can also try oatmeal. rice flour or even polenta.

Seasoning

There are endless permutations of seasoning and the best advice is to experiment. Start with a plain butchers or herb sausage and move on to the more exotic flavours.

As a rough guide, 450 g of sausage meat will need around 15g of seasoning. This could just be salt and pepper to taste. Salt and pepper will always form the backbone of the seasoning but they can be supported by cloves, ginger, nutmeg, mace, cayenne pepper and others. The French use a blend of spices called quatre-epices (four spices) this is roughly 70% pepper and 10% each of cloves, ginger and nutmeg.

Herbs

The most common herb in our sausages is sage. You will need about 10 sage leaves for 450 g of sausage meat. You can use parsley and chives in similar quantities. Other popular herbs are thyme, oregano, marjoram, mint and rosemary.

Making the sausages

Once you have decided on the ingredients it is a simple job to mix them together. The seasonings will be hit and miss at first. Have a go, fry a small piece and taste the results. You can then adjust the seasoning. Repeat this until you are happy with the taste (and try to remember what you put in for next time).

All sausages benefit from a resting period which allows them to dry and for the flavours to develop. I would try to give your creations a day in the fridge.

Burgers

Shape the sausage meat into burgers, leave to rest and either grill or fry. If you are grilling you may want to brush the patties with oil.

Crepinettes (sausage parcels)

You will need caul fat to make these. Most butchers should have some but you will have to ask. The fat is stiff and breaks easily but is easier to use if it is softened in warm water for an hour. Cut the fat into 10 cm squares, put about 100g of sausage meat in the centre and wrap it up. The finished crepinette should be about 1 cm thick and can be fried or grilled. It is not necessary to do anything else to them but you could roll them in egg and breadcrumbs before cooking to give a scotch egg finish.

Stuffing sausages

You can buy natural sausage skins (I see no point in going through the hassle of making home made sausages and then using synthetic skins) from specialist suppliers. You will have to buy a large quantity but they are cheap and keep indefinitely. Alternatively, your butcher should be prepared to let you have some. The skins are packed in salt and need to be soaked overnight, rinsed and washed before you use them.

Once you are ready to stuff the sausages put the sausage meat into whatever you are using. Wrinkle the entire length of skin over the nozzle.. Tie the end of the skin (otherwise the sausage meat will fall out the other end!) and gently force the meat into the skin. You will probably find that it is easier with two people - one to stuff and one to control the casing. Start with short lengths of skin - around 1 metre, try not to overfill the sausages and avoid large air gaps. You will hopefully have a long sausage. Either tie or twist this into individual lengths and hang to dry for at least a few hours, ideally overnight. The sausages can then be cooked or frozen. They will not contain any preservatives so should be cooked with a day or two.